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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Shalit Negotiator Heads to Cairo after Ousted Mediator Reinstated

26/02/2009 | Almanar

Senior Israeli negotiator Ofer Dekel headed to Cairo on Thursday for talks on securing the release of captured Israeli occupation soldier Gilad Shalit. He left shortly after outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reinstated Amos Gilad, Israel's chief negotiator in talks over a truce in Gaza.

Some officials had feared that Gilad's suspension earlier this week would harm negotiations for Shalit. As Dekel left for Egypt, a source in Olmert's bureau declared: "We cannot miss this opportunity, regardless of the painful cost."

Dekel was invited to Cairo by Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to hear his suggestions on how to proceed and to relay Hamas' demands. Hamas wants hundreds of Palestinian detainees released, including many involved in deadly attacks on Israelis.

With only a few weeks left in Olmert's term, a source in the bureau explained that, "Hamas must understand that it has a window of opportunity, until the middle of March, to close the deal. Hamas must decide now if it wants to close this deal or not."
The source noted that it was in Hamas' interest to close the Shalit deal during Olmert's tenure, saying Hamas "won't get anything more from Bibi." He was referring to the moniker of Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, who accepted a mandate last week to form Israel's next government.

"Hamas wants many things, mainly opening the crossings [to Gaza] that, in a few weeks, once Bibi is prime minister, will no longer be relevant," said the source. He added that Israel has urged Hamas to begin negotiations in Cairo on the list of prisoners. "We won't acquiesce to each name that Hamas requests but we are willing to begin negotiations to solve this issue," the source said.

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